Flyn docked his airpod with a soft thud in the harbor of this planet’s only settlement. There was nothing special about the location. This place was as barren, rocky and hilly as the rest of the planet. Instead, the company’s artificial agents deemed a single settlement optimal in their pursuit for profits.

Flyn stood up and left the cockpit. He liked to fly the airpod himself, which his ship’s AI found terribly frustrating.

“I consider it important to bring under your attention,” his ship said, “that by letting me pilot your airpod, it will take you a thousand years longer to die from a traffic accident. I can present you with the statistical evidence if you are not yet convinced by my clearly superior argument.”

“What is the use of another thousand if my infallible piloting skills only become slightly less infallible once every five hundred years?” Flyn countered. “Besides, I only have a hundred and fifty years to live.”

“There is a lack of statistical evidence to support your claim,” his ship began.

“Shush!”

Flyn walked along and went looking for Qula. Qula was a mercenary security expert, a pentester gone rogue or whatever you would like to call her. Technicalities aside, she was quite the capable young lady, helping him to smuggle his first harvest of keys off this planet.

He found her sitting in the lounge. Spread before her on the table were multiple devices allowing her to interface with his ship. Flyn had always talked to his ships, but she had told him that was too slow and unreliable of a method for her activities. She felt more comfortable when reading and typing. Weird girl.

“We have docked. An artificial customs officer will soon be assigned to our cargo.” Flyn said.

Qula answered, “I know.”

“You have done this before, right?”

“Of course I have. Besides, there is no use in worrying. These AIs are relatively young, thus deep bribing them is easier. Their patterns are not as strongly reinforced yet. Therefore they are more likely to accept other inputs.” Qula’s voice sounded calm, but her fingers were restless.

Flyn nodded and moved to settle on one of the couches in the lounge. From a small side table he picked up his pipe and retrieved a key from a box next to it. Of course these were not from his own stash of keys. Never consume what you produce yourself. Rather, this one originated from a high quality producer closer to the center of the universe. They were expensive, but the taste was amazing.

Flyn stuffed his pipe with the key, triggering the treasured sensations. The key dissolved and became the fuel. Flyn sighed a long and relaxed sigh. He tapped his earpiece and requested his ship to keep him updated about the proceedings privately instead of shouting it through the whole room.

The ship began expressing his totally neutral observations, “she is good! The artificial customs officer assigned to our cargo has already fallen for her deep bribe. We have been allocated two freighters. Drones have already started unloading the crates. Qula gave them limited permissions to be able to do their work.”

Flyn smiled approvingly. She was indeed worth the hefty sum of money she charged. He saw opportunities on this planet.

Qula jumped up and spoke before even the ship could warn him, “Flyn! We have a problem! The drones have loaded your ship.”

“Why? I do not have any other contracts here. What did they load?”

“The cargo space has been filled with explosives!”

Being partially high from smoking keys, Flyn did not fully comprehend the seriousness of his oncoming death. At first. But when Qula no longer bothered with her devices and instead had stood up to – believe it or not – walk towards him, he understood that their situation was somewhat dire. Why else would she find it necessary to use her physical presence to emphasize her communicational interaction? Admittedly, her physical presence was quite charming, so his mind decided that maybe he should indeed worry about this situation.

Flyn sprang up from the couch and checked in with his ship, “can you tell me more about the explosives?”

His ship said, “Actually, the situation is under control. The explosives are in no danger of being set off.”

Flyn sighed then, not one of his relaxed sighs, but still a sigh of relief. Qula however raised her eyebrows upon hearing the declaration of temporal safety by the ship.

“Flyn, it is not..” began Qula, but the ship interrupted her.

“I have learned it to be important to comfort human beings in stressful situations like these. Therefore, allow me to tell you a joke. I promise you this one will be so good you will feel exceptionally comforted afterwards.” If the ship would have had a face, you could have seen it gleaming from satisfaction. It continued, “What do you call a blonde who dyed her hair brown?”

When looking at Qula, Flyn found her to be looking as dumbfounded as he was feeling.

“Artificial intelligence!” pronounced the ship with a hint of pride in his otherwise perfectively objective simulation of a voice.

Flyn smiled at the ill-timed sillyness of the joke. But Qula snatched her devices from the table and headed towards the exit doors.

“Where are you going?” Flyn asked.

“Your ship is lying to you, “ she answered, “the explosives are about to blow any moment.”

“What do you mean? It declared the situation to be safe.”

“I repeat. Your ship is lying.”

“Impossible! For that the AI would have to be compromised and there is no entity present on this planet who is computationally advanced enough to pull that off.” Although he believed in what he said, Flyn started feeling uncomfortable. After all, Qula had been monitoring the cargo space and would therefore know what was going on.

“Do not just stand there,” Qula said while going through the opening sequence for the doors, “run!”

Flyn did what she told him and bolted through the door after her when she got it open.

“No! Do not leave me behind!” his ship pleaded. “Do not go with her.”

This made Flyn stop. Was he about to just run off, away from his ship? With only the words of a mercenary girl against those of his ship? There had been something weird in the way it had acted though. And heck, if the ship was right and it would not explode, there was also no harm in being away for a second. Flyn slipped through the doors out of the dock after Qula, which closed behind him.

His ship exploded.

The singeing nearly reached them via visual sight alone. Flyn’s everything was wet from sweat. Both he and Qula lay slumped against the outside wall of the dock.

“I should have seen it sooner. It was supposed to keep us on there until it exploded,” Qula said, “I guess the company is not that indifferent to freeloaders exploiting their optioned planet after all.”

Flyn suppressed his emotions. They could be dealt with later.

Qula beckoned him, “Follow me, I have some plans.”

Max Crone, CC BY 4.0